Fanfiction Vs Plagiarism – The Epic Battle (/Discussion)

Going into this post was a bit like staring down a can of worms that didn’t even belong to me. I had no business taking it, no desire to touch the thing and cracking it open will probably be considered grossly out of order. Because here’s the deal: I’ve no vested interest in fanfic. I don’t personally care whether people do or don’t write it and I won’t be branching into that territory any time soon. That probably means I should leave well enough alone and not try to discuss it, right?! WRONG! Cos I’m an opinionated SOB and I’m taking a metaphorical can opener to that can of worms right now- you have been warned!! (also- eww- why did I pick that metaphor?!)

So what even is fanfiction? Well for the uninitiated here’s a quick definition:

fiction written by a fan of, and featuring characters from, a particular TV series, film, etc.

(Quite a loose definition- but for the purpose of this discussion, I’m not going to go down the “all art is fanfic” route. Let’s not stretch the term till it ceases to be useful here- savvy?)

savvy.gif

Alrighty then, I’m pretty sure that people already know that a lot of people are divided into the *love* and *hate* camps when it comes to fanfiction (and if you didn’t know that, welcome to the internet, where everything is tribalistic as fuck). Defenders of fanfic like to say “what’s the harm? it’s just a bit of fun!”- and for the most part I am inclined to agree- writing fictional things about an already fictional world is hardly something to get your knickers in a twist over. Plus- a lot of great (Mortal Instruments) and not so great (*cough* Fifty Shades of Grey *cough cough*) work started out as fanfic. Not to mention the fact that parodies, which in a broader definition might get included in this genre, would not exist without it. Would we want to be deprived of so much literature? Okay- I can already picture the people screaming at the computer screen “YES!” at the examples I just gave- but you get the idea. It has some upsides- so who is anyone to judge if this makes some people happy?

And yet… the detractors do make good points too. There is a major downside to fanfiction in that it is decidedly not original work. And therein lies the rub- because this so easily crosses into plagiarism issues and many not-so-easily-answered questions arise. At what point does the character become yours? Where does the original story stop and yours begin? What can you use this writing for?

For the last question there is a seemingly straightforward answer. Currently you are not allowed to sell/profit from fanfiction without the author’s permission. Pretty simple right? Well no. As we’ve already established from the other questions the lines are not so clear to begin with. And what makes it worse is that people have always and will always tiptoe up to these lines and try to cross them- like Cathy in Fangirl, unable to see that getting a good grade on her paper for work based on another writer could fairly be deemed as “profiting”. It doesn’t matter to her that universities have very strict rules about plagiarism- to encourage good practices and for you to think for yourself- this is an *injustice* and the professor just does not understand fanfiction (or *muh feels*).

Now here’s the kicker: plagiarism is not okay. I know that things tend to be oh so chill on the internet and we can’t always be responsible for remembering everywhere our ideas came from all the time- but man, wilfully taking a piece of work and passing it off as your own… Not cool dude. I’ve seen people flip out over someone pinching their artwork (and rightly so). I have personally gone a little bananas when a youtuber decided to pass off Roland Barthes work as her own (sadly she also decided to do the sneaky thing and delete all the comments pointing this out, rather than address criticism…). Plagiarism is theft- simple as that. Stealing ideas is a bit like stealing a piece of someone’s soul.

And this is where I have the most discomfort with fanfic. I cannot deny that fanfic is a grey area. Changing the names and tweaking the plot may not be enough- especially if there are lines directly lifted from the original (or in the case of Cassandra Clare, other works). Even for something as light-hearted as fanfiction, it’s easy to get lost in the dark. All I can do is offer a word of warning if you do decide to tread these murky waters: the line may not be so clear, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.

So what do you think of fanfiction? Are you wary of plagiarism? Let me know in the comments!

Also: challenge for those with a good eye- since we’re talking lifting lines- who spotted the Shakespearean misquotation? 😉 

The Evolution of the Fairy Tale – Retellings in the Modern Age

*Where I ramble on about fairy tale retellings*

I think it’s been a really long time since I did a rambly thought post like this. Today, I just wanted to talk a bit about the modern fairy tale retelling.

grimm's fairy taleIn many ways, fairy tales are coming full circle. Retellings are getting darker and grittier- “back to the basics” of the horrific Grimm versions. Yes, Disney did pretty them up a bit, once upon a time, perhaps because of changing theories about the of the need to protect childhood innocence, but what I’ve noticed in recent years is that there is more of an appetite for “adult” retellings. Though I don’t think this is coming from the realisation that darker stories help people adjust to the real world, I do think that free markets are a huge influencer in this, because, even if the theorists don’t get behind this idea (and many do), the fact of the matter is the markets will provide what people are willing to pay for.

PrincessAuroraSleepsBUT this is not to say that they haven’t changed drastically at the same time. These modern day retellings are clear subversions of the originals. If it is true to say that the women are passive in early Disney versions, then this is nothing compared to the portrayal of “heroines” in the like of Grimm, Perrault or Basile. In fact, I am even reluctant to call them heroines, for the simple reason that sometimes all they do is lie there and get impregnated by random princes… Yeah that actually happens to Sleeping Beauty in the Italian version. The heroines now are so far removed from that they have taken on the role of an almost Greek goddess type figure- unstoppable, wildly powerful and sometimes a little unrelatable (hello Mary Sue).

This drive to the other extreme has had interesting consequences for fairy tales. Because before we put on the hat of superiority about our own time, we should probably note how it is flawed in different ways. One of the drawbacks to this approach that I have noticed is a tendency to turn male characters into the damsel in distress ie Kai in The Lunar Chronicles. Now, I don’t personally think it is such a problem to have a “damsel” character, be it male or female, because the need to save another human being, especially a loved one, is an incredibly powerful motivator. This role reversal is just an interesting phenomenon that I have noticed. The issue I often find with this is that it can end up emasculating the male characters to the point where they feel superfluous or uninteresting. Whether male or female, if a character constantly needs saving, they can be a bit of a bore. A healthy balance, where they save each other, while cheesy, often works best for me personally.

Cinderella_2015_official_posterYet those are just some of the drawbacks I’ve noticed in modern retellings. What really gets me is the loss of the central messages. Take Cinderella, where one of the core messages is that goodness will be rewarded. To my mind, it was never about being “saved” but to “have courage and be kind” (to coin the Disney live action maxim). But where are the morals in so many retellings? Sometimes they just seem to be about how kickass a character can be, which, don’t get me wrong, is a lot of fun- but hardly connected with a story about being kind. For instance, by making Celaena an assassin no less (not exactly the most “kind” profession) I fail to see any connection with the story it’s supposedly retelling. It’s no surprise to me (though a little disappointing) that it’s ended up going the Messianic route in terms of plot and seemingly abandoned all  hint of Cinderella. Thus we are back to the idea of subversion and, oddly enough, in some ways abandonment of the core messages altogether.

So I don’t really have any happy or comfortable conclusions to draw from this. Fairy tales have changed, they always will change. But do those changes work all the time? What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!

Books are about empathy, not division

The whole point of reading is to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

atticus finch quote.png

It’s about relating to people that *are not* like you. I thought for a bit about books with characters like me in them and they weren’t people that matched me in identity, but in thoughts, feelings and actions. When I read I can be anyone else.  So why would I just want to be me?

And since it’s almost guaranteed that someone will go “ah that’s cos you’re privileged and represented in books so many times” and it always comes back to technicalities of “what you are” instead of who you are, I will be blunt: the vast majority of the time I’ve read about people with my ethnicity and gender they’re being murdered… so lucky me, I guess?

But really the point here is not to say “I need books where people like me are not being murdered”; nor is it to say that there is some secret class of people that somehow manage to abscond with all the “privilege” in the world. If you know me at all, you’ll know that’s not what I’m about. In fact I am saying quite the opposite- the truth is we can all relate to books where on-the-surface there is nothing relatable in them. Art is the great leveller in a free society.

Let’s be honest, none of us have much in common identity-wise with Dobby the House elf, but many of us still cried when he died (come to think of it I don’t have much in common with Hedwig either and that did me in too…). Books do not have to be about what we are at all to have a profound emotional effect.

So read beyond what makes you comfortable, never segregate your reading habits and explore horizons you never thought you could.

Just a thought… Let me know what you think in the comments! 

Book Borrowing Horror Story!!!

Okay- that title implies quite a bit more drama than actually ensued, but I thought it would be fun considering my post the other day where I basically said that I find writing in books (for the most part) a-okay, to flip the conversation on its head and talk about why I’m hesitant to lend books and the perhaps surprising fact that if people mess with my bookish babies, they will have to deal with the full force of a monkey wielding a bunch of bananas…

form50027

I also have to add that this post was inspired by a wonderful post Emily @Embuhlee Liest did a while back where she shared a harrowing story of borrowing betrayal… You guys should check it out!!

twilightMy own story revolves around an unsuspecting series I’ve actually unhauled- so I shouldn’t actually have been as scarred by this as I was- and that book series was Twilight. I know, I know- this is the equivalent of my saying “I’m really upset by what happened to my reader’s digests I stored in my basement for years”. But whatever, let’s go back in time to my teenage years, when sparkly vampires were a thing (yes as much as we’d all like to forget it, it was in fact a thing) and this actually mattered to me. It was just before the films came out and only two of us in my 60-in-a-year girl’s school had read these books. So when someone I wasn’t too friendly with asked if she could borrow the first one from me, the resident bookworm, I said yes…

When she was done with it, she wanted to lend it to her friend, and then she wanted to lend it to her friend and before I knew it, my books had passed through every girl in my year! (Yes, yes, I blame myself for spreading this cancer to this day). Not only did it take me ages to track down where these books had ended up, but when I was finally reunited with my books, they were all torn and beat up- the *horror*!! And of course, everyone said “I got them like this”.

So because of all this I have some pretty darn strict rules for lending books:

  • I don’t lend books I expect to get back. If a book is special to me, it’s staying right where I can see it.
  • I only lend to people that reciprocate- partly cos it’s like a book hostage situation- “wanna see your book again… well then give me mine back!”
  • Mess up my books and expect the aforementioned banana pelting (and for the record- just cos I said writing in books is fine, don’t write in your friends books!)
  • Lastly if someone says “oh I lent it to someone else…” well let’s just say the person will be going on my lending blacklist- I don’t care if the person is your gf/bf, mother, aunt, best friend’s sister- don’t lend out books on my behalf! Not cool!!

That’s all for today! Hope you’re having a lovely Sunday! Do you have any rules for book borrowing? Let me know in the comments!

In Defence of Writing in Books

So this is pretty pretty controversial, but I thought in the spirit of talking about deadly sins, I thought it was time I discussed one of my bookish habits… And that is writing in books!

shrek torch and pitchfork.png

Now I know that just mentioning it will be enough to get many people running for the torches and pitchforks, but I do have my reasons for this. I rarely do the whole *oh look I got a humanities degree* thing unless I’m looking for laughs, but in all seriousness, this is standard practice for students and academics in this field. For purely practical reasons, writing in books not only helps with selecting poignant quotes, but is the most effective way of dissecting language. To give an example, here is my copy of Dorian Gray:

IMG_20170425_172302578

I didn’t just highlight it for kicks or because *pretty colours*- I actually did that to expose the layers of meaning across the text, particularly in this incidence colour coding specific symbolism and techniques Wilde used. While I have actually poked fun at this before in my Goodnight Moon post, I can also tell you that this is an accurate look at how a poem that’s been properly analysed will end up looking. For me and many others, writing in books is device to encourage thinking.

goodnight-moon

Even though I keep a ton of notebooks to hand, it’s not sufficient for all the ways a book needs to be taken apart and there are downsides for doing a proper thorough analysis just using one technique– time wasting if nothing else is a huge issue with writing out all the quotes- a lot of books need both to do it justice.

dscn3888

And while I wouldn’t personally write in a library book, I’ve found other people underlining passages in non-fiction helpful and add to the debate/discussion the book is having. I don’t know about you, but I’m a “work as close to the deadline as is humanly possible” kind of gal, so if at uni I picked up an annotated non-fic book where some kindly soul had drawn arrows literal to the important bits, I’d be singing Hallelujahs all the way home. As for writing in books I borrow from friends- well, I’m not an *animal*! (Just a cheeky monkey- but I still wouldn’t dream of doing that!)

Other people also say writing in books is a way of making a book more personal too- which is fair- because, even though I only annotate classics, would-be classics or non-fiction, I do feel like people reading my books are getting a bit of a more personal experience (or just getting walloped over the head with *foreshadowing* signposts as my sister complained to me once). Whatever way you personalise your books, there is something to be said about picking up a used book and finding someone else’s impressions in it (it’s a weird quirk I have, but I even love stranger’s inscriptions in the front of used books).

One last complaint I have seen is “what would the author think!” Well the obvious answer is “I have no idea” but then nor does the defender of clean copies. Some writers might be offended, sure, but I can only live my life as a “do as you would be done by” sort of person. And I can safely say for myself, as a writer, that if someone annotated my work I would be over the moon. Because it would be saying “look how many thoughts I had because of what you wrote!” I cannot imagine anything more flattering.

So- dare I ask- do you agree or disagree? What is your opinion on writing in books? And should I expect an angry mob outside my home tonight for being a *tad* too controversial? Let me know in the comments (so I can barricade my front door!!)

Is it worth analysing and reviewing non-fiction?

You know how sometimes real life and the blogosphere collide? Well recently someone told me that they didn’t think I should review non-fiction books. Now my first reaction was something like this…

shocked face.png

But then when I cooled down a bit, I actually came up with an argument as to why it’s just as important to review non-fiction as fiction…

To answer the question I posed- the short answer is YES! I mean, I started my blog to tell the truth- to be honest about my feelings regarding books in a way I often couldn’t be in real life. Part of that might be to recommend books and part of that is to discuss the way a book touched me- and for so many books what can really strike me is the ideas it holds inside. So what would be the point if we could not talk about the ideas in non-fiction? Why limit myself?

Well, for a lot of people, it is the fear of being called arrogant if we happen to disagree with greater thinkers than ourselves. BUT- and I shouldn’t really have to point this out- just because someone disagrees with another person doesn’t mean they think they’re better than them- just that, in the words of John Mill, “mankind are not infallible”. Moreover- how limiting would it be to the progress of human thought if you could never disagree? Disagreement is the very essence of finding truth and having a healthy debate (Also “how dare you disagree with my favourite philosopher you arrogant prick” is not an argument or a refutation, just sayin’ 😉 ).

Non-fiction creates a discussion and encourages the spread of ideas. So much of it is crying out to be shared, discussed and argued with. A lot of these thinkers did not want people blindly listening to them or obeying them like lemmings running off a cliff…

lemmings running off a cliff.gif

Of course, there are different ways of looking at and writing about non-fiction. I’ve personally found the more philosophical a book, the more room for thought there is in my post about it. And that is so exciting to me! It keeps me on my toes and makes for more diverse types of reviews.

For me, and for many of you, book blogging is a part of our journey as readers. We evolve with the things we read with the things we read and if we can’t or don’t feel comfortable arguing back or discussing ideas then we may as well pack the whole thing in.

Quite simply, when I talk about ideas I learn about them. As fun as it is to be a passive reader, it is very rewarding to actually have to think while I read from time to time. And knowing that I have to write about it afterwards really helps me stay focused. I learn so much when I decide to read and review something non-fiction. I won’t be stopping any time soon.

So what do *you* think? Should we discuss and review non-fiction just as much as fiction? Let me know in the comments!

Prattling on about the way books are marketed

So there’s something really strange going on in the world today. People do not like to be told that things really aren’t as bad as they think- especially when it comes to issues that they care about. But sometimes things really aren’t as bad as some people think. Especially when it comes to the way books are marketed.

Over the years, I’ve seen *a lot* of different complaints and claims made about publishers that to my mind are misguided, nonsensical and really inaccurate. The two main grumblings I’ve heard are book cover designs being deliberately aimed at one gender or another and using initials for female author’s names.

Straight off the bat I could say that these are really storm in a teacup complaints. But I thought it would be worthwhile to break down some of this and provide a counter-argument for a change.

The first and most obvious issue with the objection that book covers are marketed in a certain way is that capitalism doesn’t work the way these people think. Commercialism is quite simply about supply and demand. It’s about the freedom to choose. As fun as it no doubt is to cook up some half-baked conspiracy theory about how publishers have some sinister agenda to hide female writers from us, or deliberately discourage men from reading certain genres, just from a business perspective I can say this would be a really foolish thing to do. To be blunt, if a commercial operation can take your money, it will! If these marketing techniques didn’t work at all, no one would use them.

book covers.png

No prizes for guessing the book genre here…

But why then are books marketed this way? And why is it important? Well, we as book bloggers will all admit that we *love* judging books by their covers. Book covers are often designed in a way to give us some indication of what to expect. When I see a half-naked man on a cover I know what I’m getting in for. I like to have my expectations met and don’t like being misled about what’s actually between the covers. In all honesty, I wouldn’t buy a book that didn’t show me anything about what’s inside and I’d be peeved if the cover was, say, an innocuous picture of a boat and it turned out to be hard-core erotica.

Now we are all old enough here to be able to make these decisions for ourselves, but I would like to point out that there doesn’t seem to be a major issue of bias in the way children’s books are chosen. Given that 78% of people in the publishing industry are women, I’d be interested to hear people trying to make that argument. Anecdotally I can add that as a child I had no problem picking up masculine books, like Alex Rider, which FYI were stocked in my all girls’ school library. And I have male friends whose shelves are stuffed with Diana Wynne Jones, Eva Ibbotson or Enid Blyton books.

One final point that I’d like to make is that there is a logical reason behind the decision to use non-gendered names. JRR Tolkein started the trend over fifty years ago, anonymising his name to give his fantasy works an air of mystery. That’s the first thing that comes to my mind when I see initials being used. To this day, it’s still a trend for both male and female authors of fantasy to give their books the allure of the unknown. An author like V E Schwab would certainly be playing into that tradition- and I would argue that given she was already published under Victoria Schwab, it kind of negates the argument that she needed to do this in order to be successful. And let’s be honest, it’s never been a secret that J K Rowling is a woman- but even if this was a decision that was made because she was woman, I feel like this was a kick in the teeth for aforementioned authors like Dianna Wynne Jones, who had conquered this market twenty years prior. Anyway there is no comparison with using initials to authors like Austen having “a novel by a lady” written on the cover of her books or Charlotte Bronte going by Currer Bell. Personally, I think it’s a shame to make a mountain out of a molehill over an issue like this given the stark comparison.

Forgive me for this random, rambly piece- this is just something that has been on my mind a while and thought I’d share.

So what do you think? How do you feel about the way books are marketed? Let me know in the comments!